“Quite a lot, really —it’s like watching a movie on fast forward,” says Schoenherr Attorney at Law Marko Frantar, from Ljubljana, when asked what’s happening in Slovenia during the COVID-19 epidemic. “As elsewhere, we've been seeing a level of state intervention that is unprecedented in terms of both range and magnitude of measures adopted — all compressed into a period of two months."
And he says the sentiment in Slovenia is that steps taken to address the health crisis have been effective. "Social distancing measures – rigorous as they were – have done the job. Only last week, Slovenia became the first EU member state to withdraw its 'State of Epidemics’ status,” while noting there is lesser unity over the economic policy interventions. Frantar welcomes the "strong focus on construction projects" while noting the controversy over the restricted criteria for NGO participation in the construction permitting stage.
In Slovenia, as everywhere else, lawyers worked primarily from home over the past two months. “Naturally, the logistics are a bit more demanding – but overall the temporary adjustment has been successful." Still, that doesn’t mean it was ideal. "The legal market is not immune to the epidemic,” he says. “Lawyers will tell you that the dynamics and nature of the work have been a bit different during this time." Most litigation has been put on hold, and he reports that "the M&A market has also been more quiet than usual, with only the most advanced deals progressing.”
Nevertheless, he and his colleagues stayed busy throughout the crisis, Frantar says. “The crisis has produced a diversified set of legal issues," he reports, citing various force majeure / non-performance mandates and tensions in the lease market. Unsurprisingly, many of the queries have been labor-law driven – including "very practical do's and don’ts of returning to work, processing of personal data, and ensuring safe working environment."
When asked whether most contractual break-downs resulted in compromises and settlements or in the initiation of formal dispute procedures, Frantar says, "to some extent it’s too early to tell as many parties still evaluate their positions.” And certainly some conflicts will prove resistant to negotiation, he says, noting that "I don’t know if there will be a flood of new litigation, but it's a safe bet that a portion of non-performance disputes will move to court.”
According to him, though “nobody has a crystal ball," everyone is hopeful that the economy will bounce back soon and the public health status will remain stable. He suggests that, while not all industries will suffer in the meantime, demand for legal services is unlikely to shrink: "We know the legal market does not precisely mimic the economy — if anything, a recession typically comes with a spike in restructurings, litigation, and other countercyclical practices."
Frantar admits to being happy that, as of May 18th, "the team is back in the office, with business as usual in the physical sense.” According to him, "beyond accelerated digitalization, the crisis will cause all businesses, law firms including, to rethink their opportunities and business models."